With private airlines mushrooming and the frequency of flights increasing manifold, the country faces an acute shortage of trained pilots. The civil aviation ministry has estimated that India will be 2000 to 3000 pilots short in the next three years unless new training programmes are begun immediately.
A most unlikely candidate has volunteered to take up part of this task - the venerable Banaras Hindu University (BHU). It will be the first university in the country to offer a pilot training course.
Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Panjab Singh, BHU Vice Chancellor, said, "We are in the process of finalising a draft proposal and have set a target for introducing it in the academic session 2007-08. There is acute shortage of pilots in India and indeed the whole world, and the demand can only rise."
What particularly equips BHU to conduct such a course is that it is the only university in India that has an airstrip within its sprawling 1300 acre campus. It was created for the Royal Air Force to train pilots during the Second World War.
Commercial pilots' licences will be given to those who successfully complete the course, though the details of these have yet to be firmed up with the Director General of Civil Aviation.
Flying clubs in the country have been training pilots for years. When asked whether the course would be any different from those offered by other pilot training institutes, Singh said, "The foundation of BHU has been built on certain principles. Our students are taught to be good human being first. The rest follows."
Several other steps are in the pipeline to meet the pilot shortage. A state-of-art pilot training school is being set up in Gondia district of Gujarat. The DGCA has also approved a total of 20 flying training institutes for imparting Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) training.
Domestic airlines admitted there was a shortage of pilots in India and welcomed the BHU initiative. "So long as the training confirms to DGCA and Commercial pilot norms it would be of great benfit to the industry," said Siddhanta Sharma CEO of SpiceJet.
Panjab Singh is optimistic that India may even emerge as a major source of pilots for airlines across the world in coming years.